Workers Health & Safety Centre

Co-op student’s death stresses need for legal protections

The recent death of an Ontario high school co-op student has prompted renewed calls for amendments to the province’s laws governing work.
Adam Keunen (pictured here) was killed in a workplace incident at an auto recycling plant in West Lincoln, Ontario on September 26, 2014. Keunen 17, hadn’t even finished his first week at his co-op placement at Plazek Auto Recyclers when he was crushed under a front-end loader. According to the Canadian Intern Association, he is the third Ontario co-op student killed in the past 10 months.
Wayne Affleck, another student, was killed in the electrical room of a solar farm in Sunderland last December. Aaron Murray died in a car crash in April after an unpaid night shift working as a campus security guard at Trent University in Peterborough.
“This really confirms that even high school students are doing things dangerous enough to need occupational health and safety protection,” says Claire Seaborn president of the Canadian Intern Association.
Co-op students and interns aren’t covered by employment laws such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) or the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA). This is because the legislation’s current definition of “worker” excludes them. Under the legislation a “worker” is “a person who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation.”
As such, co-op students and interns do not enjoy basic rights such as the right to refuse unsafe work. Moreover, employers cannot be held to account for failure to uphold their considerable responsibilities for worker health and safety in these instances. In the event of serious injury or death the incident becomes a matter for the police only.
Last December, the Canadian Intern Association, and Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams brought this issue to light calling upon the government to introduce legislation that would close the exclusion of co-op students and interns. The government responded with proposed legislation. However, the bill died once last spring’s Ontario election was called and Queen’s Park stopped sitting.
A new government bill has recently been tabled called Bill 18, “Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014.” If passed the bill would amend five work-related laws including the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The current bill redefines “worker”, under the Act to include: “a secondary school student who performs work or supplies services for no monetary compensation under a work experience program authorized by the school board that operates the school in which the student is enrolled;” and “a person who performs work or supplies services for no monetary compensation under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology, university or other postsecondary institution.”
According to the Canadian Intern Association the province’s proposed legislation is the “bare minimum” of what needs to be done for unpaid interns and co-op students.
“The government should clarify this new class of workers and what rights they have under all the legislation, not just health and safety, but employment standards, workers’ compensation and human rights,” says Seaborn.
Want to read the new Bill 18 “Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014”?
Want to learn about the WHSC’s resources for young workers?
Want to know about the WHSC’s Awareness Training for Workers designed to provide young and new workers a general level of health and safety awareness prior to starting work?
Want to know how the WHSC can assist employers in meeting their extensive workplace health and safety training obligations?
Call:        1-888-869-7950